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3M workers hold their boss hostage

STRIKING French workers for American manufacturer 3M were holding their boss hostage yesterday at a plant south of Paris as anger over layoffs and cutbacks mounted around the country.

A few dozen strikers took turns standing guard outside the factory office where the director of 3M's French operations, Luc Rousselet, has been holed up since Tuesday.

The workers did not threaten any violence and the atmosphere was calm yesterday at the factory on the outskirts of Pithiviers.

A few police officers stood outside the facility, while workers inside exchanged jokes and worries about their future amid heaps of empty plastic coffee cups and boxes of cookies.

Talks among 3M workers and management were suspended overnight on Tuesday, but were to resume late yesterday, mediated by a local labor official. Workers want better severance packages for those being laid off and better conditions for those keeping their jobs.

Meanwhile, workers from a French plant owned by German tire maker Continental AG marched through Paris and burned tires yesterday near the president's Elysee palace to protest against their factory's planned closure.

Faced with what it calls the collapse of the European auto market, Continental recently announced plans to close the plant in 2010.

"We shouldn't let this company close down, otherwise it means that all these robber bosses can do whatever they want to," said Antonio Da Costa, a union representative.

In France, it is not unheard-of for striking workers to hold company executives as a way of winning concessions from management. The hostages are almost never injured. A similar situation ended peacefully earlier this month at Sony's French facilities.

"We don't have any other ammunition" other than hostage-taking, said Laurent Joly, who has worked at the Pithiviers plant for 11 years and is angry that he is being transferred to another French site.

"I really have the impression that we no longer exist for these people," Genevieve Camus, who has worked for the plant for 35 years, said of the company's American management.

The French division of 3M - a diversified manufacturer known for Post-It notes and Scotch tape - recently announced layoffs and job transfers among its 2,700 workers at 13 French sites. Among those targeted are 110 of the Pithiviers factory's 235 workers.

3M is also planning job cuts in the United States and other nations.


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